wander process

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The Pungent Taste of Colonialism

I mentioned in my previous post that I gave myself a generous amount of time to wander around Phnom Penh and explore the food scene there. I found myself returning multiple times to The Blue Pumpkin, a restaurant I was already familiar with.

If you’re looking for classy ice cream or baked goods in Cambodia and you’re in either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, look no further than The Blue Pumpkin. I remember gleefully slurping kaffir lime and lemon sorbet in Siem Reap long before my love of food blossomed. I was lucky to come across The Blue Pumpkin in Phnom Penh when I was walking around one night.

I think I returned two or three more times for their ice cream. I’d pick up a macaron to nibble on while reading Bel Canto. I popped in for breakfast one morning for iced coffee and ficelle with real butter and jam (can you imagine my delight?).

I hadn’t paid too, too much attention to the baked goods because I mostly just wanted baguettes and ice cream. That sounds like an acceptable diet to me. When I had breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin before I went to Kampot for a few days, my eyes lingered over the bakery display.

I found something that could be considered either entirely offensive or wholly delightful, depending on your tastes.

I had to buy it. It’s a snack before a 5 hour bus journey, I told myself.

I pulled the box out as I settled outside my hotel to wait for the bus.

Sacre bleu! A durian eclair!

Durian is widely recognized as the most polarizing fruit, and one the most polarizing foods in the world. The fruit looks like a styrofoamy chicken breast and some believe it smells like rotting flesh and dirty diapers. I’m not selling it, obviously, but I like the stuff.

While it’s interesting enough that baguettes are so widely available in Vietnam, Lao, and Cambodia, it’s another thing entirely to such a culinary fusion between colonizer and colonized. I had never seen a food quite like this before, and it was done well.

I love learning about the intersection of food and colonialism. It’s one of the tangible, edible ways to see the extent of change colonialism exerts on a society, and often, it’s one of the things that stays around and becomes incorporated into a colonized culture once colonizers had left.

This durian eclair – was it wrong? Was it problematic? I don’t know. There’s a lot of judgement and analysis that can go into eating a durian-flavored eclair in Phnom Penh. There’s a lot of thought that happens during the process of eating. The balancing of processing the light but still characteristically pungent durian cream filling, the delicious icing on top, the excellent pastry, with wondering about the thought processes of whoever thought to combine these two things together – Cambodia’s durians with France’s pastries.

But you know what?

It tasted good.

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Out and About in Phnom Penh

As I mentioned earlier, I had to make a rather rushed trip to Phnom Penh to obtain a new visa to get a new work permit for Thailand. Phnom Penh was a place I had read plenty about and studied in school, but I had never been there. And what better way to visit the capital city than to have work cover some of your costs?!

I was crashing with Adam (and Nora) when I made the decision late Friday night to go ahead and buy a plane ticket to Cambodia. The ride from Bangkok to Phnom Penh takes upwards of 15 hours, and many times, it’s longer than that. The border town of Poipet, in Cambodia, is far and away the worst place I’ve ever been to in my life. It’s a filthy, nasty center for gambling and an international hotspot for sex trafficking and underage prostitution. Scams abound, and as a traveller, you’re pulled every which way by touts, trying to get you pay money for mysterious border fees. I didn’t have a pleasant experience the last time I passed through, on my way to Siem Reap, so I thought I’d be a grown-up and buy a place ticket. Luckily, Southeast Asia (and a few other parts of the world) are serviced by an excellent budget airline, Air Asia.

Border crisis averted! (on the way to Cambodia, that is. The way back to Thailand was a whole different story.)

I had few goals for my time in Cambodia. Really, I only had two (besides getting my visa, of course):
1. Eat a sandwich
2. Go to Tuol Sleng (this will have its own, forthcoming post)

I was successful!

Phnom Penh was a lot of wandering around, sitting in cafes and reading. I set up a Goodreads account at the end of last year and I made the goal to read 30 books in 2012. I was eager to get a jump start on my goal (and I finished one book, started and finished another, and started another).

every morning, hot or iced.

after my morning coffee and baguette, I discovered what had been nestled under the table the whole time

dental care (of unknown quality) abounds in phnom penh

what are these? they're so weird and great.

Patterns are starting to emerge. I'm always taking pictures of dogs.

The Central Market of Phnom Penh. Purveyor of knock-off Ray Bans and showcaser of fine art deco architecture.

Look closer! I think Banksy has an admirer in Southeast Asia.

The cheapest way, besides walking, to get around.

also the cheapest way for monks to get around

I take delight in the strangest things.

el aire libre

nothing says national healing quite like mass aerobic exercises

these darn dalmations would bark at me every chance they got (and they had many chances).

When in Southeast Asian countries that were colonized by the French, I am ALWAYS on the hunt for delicious sandwiches.

this building was right next to the UNESCO offices, and it was way more charming than the UNESCO offices.

Here’s a shot of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. I tried to go here multiple times, but they had the wonkiest hours of operation. Upon my last attempt to visit the Palace and its famed Silver Pagoda, I was told it was closed again.

“I always come when it’s closed! Are you sure it’s closed?”

The guard was amused, I think.

“The Royal Palace is closed,” he repeated.

Then he leaned in.

“If you give me ten dollars, I will let you go in now.”

I was a little taken aback.

“But you said it’s closed! Won’t they notice me walking around after it’s closed?”

“You just tell the guards that you left to find a friend and now you’re just getting back in to the Palace.”

I looked around. I looked at the motorcycle driver standing next to him, the driver that we taken my to the Thai Embassy earlier in the day and had recognized me (how did a capital city get so small that motorcycle drivers remember me?). I looked down at the gun of the guard. I looked at the city around me, lit up golden as the sun was beginning to set.

“I don’t think so,” I said. It wasn’t worth $10 to me, and it certainly wasn’t worth getting into trouble with the guards inside.

Riverside of the Mekong at night. I've lost count of how many Mekong towns I've been to by now.

I catch myself saying things like, “oh, maybe I’ll move to Cambodia someday.”
Cambodia was nice for a visit, but I don’t think I’d like to live there.
I was, indeed, very happy to return to Thailand. So maybe I will not move to Cambodia.

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Tarantula Supper

Remember that time I ate a cricket?
Or that time my friend Karl paid me a dollar to eat a bug that had fallen into my mocha at brunch?
Also, there was one time when I discover that there was a worm in the apple I was eating and I threw it across the room (but let’s not talk about that).

Well I went WAAAAY far past that level of craziness last week.

I had just arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the week and I figured that the best way to spend my first night in the city was to have a nice meal and walk around. My friend (and fellow intern in Timor-Leste) Andrew lives in Singapore and makes frequent trips to Phnom Penh and provided me with a wealth of suggestions for great places to eat.

Andrew especially recommended Romdeng. Romdeng was located on a quiet street off a main road. There were lights strung all around and people milling about and I immediately got the feeling my meal was going to be great.

I sat down for a romantic dinner for one and poured over the menu. Looking at the appetizer section, I saw an offering I had read about online. It was so crazy, so scary, so strange, that I knew (and you knew too, let’s admit it) that I had to try it.


I was a little intimidated by the size, I’ll admit. If I saw one of these guys in real life, I’d head in the opposite direction. It was comforting knowing that I had power over them when they were dead and that they only crawling they would be doing was through my digestive system.

Imagine me, sitting alone in a restaurant in a city in a different country. The waiter brings a plate of tarantulas for me to eat and I receive looks of equal parts shock, horror, and amusement from a nearby table of save-the-world-girls who are about my age.

And so I dug in. I started with the legs. I braced myself for the bulging abdomen but I found it pretty nutty or legume-y. The flavors weren’t very strong. The chili lime sauce these spiders came with was helpful in adding flavor. After getting rid of the mental stumbling block, the weirdest part about eating all three of these suckers was the crunchiness of all of their insides! (I know you wanted that detail). I probably had serious looks on my face throughout the tarantula eating process, as I was trying to discern the different flavors and trying to process the fact that I was eating tarantulas. I would certainly eat one again. There’s a whole world of bugs that I have yet to try.

Here’s the history lesson I will leave you with – I heard that eating tarantulas was not a common practice in Cambodia until fairly recently. Under the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, food was as scarce as scarce could be and people turned to eating critters like spiders. Now, they certainly continue eating tarantulas, but this was a nice restaurant catering to tourists who were into the idea of Romdeng’s social enterprise (they provide job training to underprivileged children) and excellent fusion food so I think it’s more of thing to shock tourists than anything else.

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Good Ol’ Fashioned Light Painting

New camera, new tripod, new sparklers, new year.
Old idea, classic fun.

We repped our schools.

Or in the case of the Brown contingent, we repped Providence.

"Sawasdee Pi Mai" means "Happy New Year" in Thai. Instead of 2012, in Thailand, it's 2555! "Five" in Thai sounds like "ha" so people are always saying "ha ha ha."

Happy Thai/Chinese New Year to you all! (It’s on Monday, I think). I got back to Bangkok after being on a bus from 6:30AM to 9PM. More travel time tomorrow, when I’m back to Buriram for the foreseeable future. Pictures from Cambodia and info about my new job situation to come.

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The Best of the Rest

The last month of living Bangkok was wonderfully busy. I took every opportunity to enjoy the city and to share my joy with friends who came to and came through the city in late December and early January. Abby visited on her way back home. Adam moved here – http://adamsadventuresinthailand.wordpress.com/. Sophie came with her family (Sophie and I were on the Development Studies Departmental Undergraduate Group at Brown. I took over for her as head when she studied abroad in France and she has resumed the role of fearless leader). Continuing the Brown love, Nora came! Nora is currently doing Teach for China and came through Thailand for a little r&r before visiting home for a month. Her stories about sleeping on wooden board and having to walk 10 minutes to get running water or use the bathroom made me feel awful about complaining about not having hot water in my apartment. ALSO – Nora and I took Peoples and Cultures of Southeast Asia together, in the days before I knew a single thing about Southeast Asia. And look where we are now.

I shall let the pictures and captions do the talking.

Standard Thai condiments for our oh-so-frequent noodle stand visits: fish sauce, sugar, chilis, and vinegar with chilis. I use all but the vinegar with chilis.

Yentafoh. More like YENTAFANTASTIC. Yentafoh is a special kind of noodle soup with pink broth. We asked why the broth was pink. We were told it was food coloring.

A sad day at Baan Suan Thon. Nina's beautiful "Made in Candy" candy jar broke.

Nina sweeping up the colored mess.

addiction. i have one.

Adam's okcupid is SO benefiting from my willingness to take glamour shots with my new camera.

Pracha Uthit, I love you, I miss you.

We like going to markets, I like taking pictures of repetitive things.

The creepiest mannequin I have found yet.

Here, plants were purchased.

Nina bought a Wall Nut! He's so sweet. Plants Vs. Zombies is slowly encroaching upon Angry Birds as the most revered game in Thailand.

You can fill them with water and they chirp!

I fall in love with color combinations daily.

Temple photography prohibited - I snuck a picture. The floor evoked the South African flag.

chinatown! where else?

This was supposed to be a well-wishing for the New Year. I just had him write my name.

wat traimit floor

the largest solid gold buddha in the world, at wat traimit

with Sophie, we find Kali in a Chinatown antique store

lots of flags around Wat Pho - maybe for New Years, maybe for UNESCO?

sophie at wat pho

wat pho

I could never not sing praises of the cleanliness and efficiency of the skytrain.

cablife in bangkok

I took Nora and Adam to one of my favorite places in Bangkok - Taksura! Eat your heart out Peoples and Cultures of Southeast Asia!

I could've used this notebook when I was in college. Heh.

I think this is roughly the right size.

The view from my old living room in Bangkok, crazy underexposed and polarized.

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I apologize sincerely for being so vague on the blog lately. I haven’t explained where I’m currently living or what my new job is or even where I am as I type this (Cambodia!).

Here are some tidbits of information:

– After much weeping and gnashing of teeth (really – I spent the morning pouting in my guesthouse room in a way that only I know how to do) I have been approved for a new Thai visa. I will pick it up in a few days.

– Meanwhile, I am in Kampot, home to the world’s highest quality pepper. Would you like some?

– I spent my pseudo-vacation visiting memorial sites of the genocide in Cambodia. Typical (of me). Haunting.

– I’m getting addicted to coffee again. This isn’t good.

– I was yoohoo-ing around my current guesthouse, trying to find someone who knew the password to the internet. Instead, I found a Khmer family who invited me to sit down and eat sweets with them. They were the best sweets I’ve had in Southeast Asia! So much powdered sugar. (The perks of being a solo female traveler are so many)

– The matriarch (and cook) of the guesthouse, offerer of the sweets, recently professed her like of me.

– Then she told me that she had a son that I could marry.

– I told her I was tooooo young to get married.

– I found the most amazing smelling cinnamon soap this morning and I didn’t buy it. The second I am done with visa matters when I’m back in Phnom Penh, I will buy some. If this region of the world can’t produce decent cinnamon-y desserts, at least I can smell like one.

– I am not feeling especially visually stimulated by this trip, but I’ll see what pictures I come up with.


In Praise of Thai Egg Custard

By now, you’ve noticed me yammering on and on and on about my favorite road in Bangkok. I talk about Charoen Krung incessantly, in blog life and in real life. Everyone that visits me is dragged there. That’s because it has everything. It has bead shops, gun shops, Mr. Donut, antique shops, camera shops, endless food, it runs parallel to the Chao Phraya, runs through Chinatown, Burapha, and ends up right in the heart of Banglamphu at the foot of Wat Pho.

And it has egg custard.

Glorious egg custard.

sah kai yah.

It was my last week at work and I had little to do. I went to go school supply shopping with a few teachers. I was warned that we might walk a long way to get to the market with school supplies. On the cab ride there, Aon mentioned a shop with egg custard that old people loved to go to. It was close enough to where we needed to be. She asked me if I wanted to try it and you already know the answer to that.

We stopped on Charoen Krung (a part of the street I hadn’t been before) at On Lok Yun, the famous egg custard cafe.

It was both love at first site

and love at first bite.

I loved the egg custard, I loved the homemade bread, I loved the weak Chinese tea and the hot coffee.

I am falling in love with places all of the time, especially in Bangkok. And I fell hard for On Lok Yun. So if we are in Bangkok at the same time, we will go.

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Christmas Cruise with Jazz Happens

We started Christmas weekend with the laziest of intentions. Have fun. Don’t think too much. Don’t compare anything to America. I think that our attitudes were successful. Generally, my life is the opposite of what I’m about to say, but – low expectations led to high satisfaction this Christmas.

Our friend, Boy, picked us up and we drove to Banglamphu, the old area of Bangkok. There, we parked and boarded our vessel for the night. The boat itself was not spectacular, but that added to its charm. We were a party of 7 people, the largest party for the night, so we got to sit at the bow of the boat, outside the enclosed area with the band and open to river views of Bangkok lit-up at night. It was perfection.

The band wasn’t really jazz. It was a lot of Stevie Wonder songs, really. Luckily, I am up on my Stevie Wonder, so I was able to sing and dance from the comfort of the bow, where people would not be scared of the crazy-looking white girl, singing and dancing to Stevie.

I spent the night taking glamour shots of friends and gushing about what a wonderful time I was having.

It was a very merry un-Christmassy-but-nonetheless-wonderful way to spend the night and it was one of the very best times I’d had maybe ever. To see a such a vibrant city (that I love so much, have I mentioned that?) from the Chao Phraya River, all lit up at night, was its own special occasion, indeed.

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Christmastime in Bangkok

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Bangkok were sort of strange occasions. While all of the malls (the cornerstone of Thai culture – just kidding. But really…) were DECKED OUT for the Christmas season, the decorations seemed to be little more than photo ops for fussily made-up Thai girls to have their pictures taken by their DSLR-toting boyfriends. (As a side note – all of the best Thai boyfriends buy expensive cameras so they can take profile pictures for their girlfriends).

It was a new experience, seeing how hollow all of the decorations and preparations for Christmas really are, when they are presented as a purely commercial interest.

Anywhoo…our modus operandi for Christmas weekend in Bangkok was simple. Don’t treat it like an American Christmas, don’t compare it to an American Christmas. Comparison could only lead to major disappointment. Instead of dwelling on anything, I had a great weekend and I had the warmest, snow-free-est Christmas I’ve ever had.

We started out the weekend with somewhat of a bang. Nina, Adam, myself, and 3 teachers from school went to the Saxophone Pub, which is one of the older music venues in Bangkok. We went to listen to more Thai ska. I still can’t figure out why ska is so popular here. We saw T-Bone, Thailand’s premier ska band, perform. I have now seen the top two ska bands in Thailand and I think I’m set. T-Bone is the more popular one, but the band I saw my first night in Bangkok, Teddy Ska, played a lot of strange covers (like “Mambo No. 5” and “Crazy in Love”), so I think I liked Teddy Ska more. This is just a reference, in case you ever happen to get into an argument with someone over the best ska band in Bangkok.

Before going to Saxophone Pub, we ate at Greyhound Cafe, which is a chain around Bangkok. Adam and I were dying for pasta and Nina was craving a burger, so we ate to our heart’s content. The decor, the waiter’s uniforms and the menus had poorly translated English all over them.

We moved on to Saxophone Pub. Adam ordered the world’s smallest drink, which was lit on fire. He had to drink it through a straw when it was still on fire. Redonk.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Normally, I wouldn’t have changed out of my pajamas all day. I would have watched Christmas Vacation and alternated between making and scarfing cookies. Then I would have remembered that we have to go to Christmas Eve service at church and I would have dressed up. Then I would have consumed a crap-ton of Welch’s sparkling grape juice and given myself an awful stomachache (it happens every year, I never learn).

This Christmas Eve was different. The Dear Leader had passed away when I was at Smile Camp and I was absolutely beside myself that I didn’t have access to media at that time. Everyone is allowed to have strange, unexplainable obsessions, and I am obsessed with North Korea. Lucky lucky for me, so is Nina! The North Korean government has a few North Korea restaurants all over Asia, meant to be money-making ventures. They feature traditional North Korean food and singers and dancers from the best arts university in North Korea. It sounds like a real treat to me. There was a lot of internal debate going on in my head, whether or not I wanted to go to a restaurant, basically just to give Kim Jong-Il pocket money for his Hennessy. Then he died and I felt better about going! We scanned message boards and read news articles to see if the Bangkok branch of Pyongyang Restaurant, as it is called, was still open. There was no consensus, so we hopped into a cab and hoped for the best.

We found this when we arrived. Heartbreak. Anguish. Dear Leader, why have you forsaken us?

Luckily, we are easily placated by bagels at Bangkok Bagel Bakery, one of my favorite places to go in Bangkok and our back-up plan for Christmas Eve lunch.

The rest of the day was pretty average, as far as days out in Bangkok are concerned.

Central World (Bangkok’s hugest mall that keeps on getting blown up and rebuilt) was stuffed to the gills with Christmas cheer.

We are guilty. Of course, we took advantage of the photo opportunities too.

Am I wearing a bear head? Yes. Did I really just make this college? You better believe it.

Onto MBK, where I had a big purchase to make.

She is a wonder.

Adam figured out what he wants to start collecting in Bangkok

We had an oh-so-elegant dinner at the MBK food court. I had noodles and made Adam take a picture of me.

ho ho ho noodles

We took too long at MBK to do anything else we wanted to for the evening – no Chulalongkorn University concert, no Christmas Eve service for me. We found comfort on the 75, just like we always do.


Christmas morning!

I went to a church service (luckily no speaking in tongues that day) and met up with Adam and Nina at Central World, where we would have lunch with Nina’s friends from UCLA.

I had some time to kill, so I thought I’d indulge in a white chocolate cranberry mocha from Starbucks.

While sipping my mocha and not-so-cutely trying to pick out the cranberry topping to make sure that none of it had gone to waste, I noticed a creepy looking, fat, older dude. Normally, this is no big deal. They’re a dime a dozen in Thailand and I take delight in scowling at them all, as the vast majority of them are here to taken advantage of Thai women. This man, however, freaked me out. He was wearing a Brown sweatshirt!

I was giving him strange looks and I think he noticed that I was looking at him too. I was trying to decide whether or not to say something. In all honesty, I would eat it up if some random Brown alum came up and started talking to me. So despite his schlumpy demeanor, I walked up to him and said hello.

“Hi! Merry Christmas! Did you go to Brown?”

He looks down at his sweatshirt. The nice brown one with the red, stitched-on letters. The same one I have in my closet at home. He looks surprised, as if he just noticed that what his sweatshirt read.

“Oh. No. It’s a good school though. Did you go there?”

“Uh, yep. I just graduated this year.”

“What college? The college of liberal arts”

At this point, I didn’t really know how to answer, since undergrad at Brown isn’t organized into colleges. I didn’t even feel like correcting him. He was far and away the most depressed-looking person that I had seen in a long time.

“Uhh, yeah. The liberal arts college. Have a merry Christmas.”

And I left, feeling a little unsettled and weirded out.

I had people to meet and dumplings to eat though!

We all had lunch at Din Tai Fung, which the New York Times named as one of the world’s top ten restaurants. How could I not say no?

Adam and I had hibiscus tea at Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung is famous for their small, steamed buns that are filled with soup. They did not disappoint. And look how cute they look.

Unfortunately, we ate them so fast that I didn’t even think about taking more pictures.

We couldn’t spend too much time at lunch, because we had a Christmas cruise to attend!

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Hiking in Khao Yai National Park

Whoa, whoa, whoa. For making a big move to the boonies (as I affectionately call it to my family and friends), life has been more than hectic. I kept on meaning to edit pictures and post my now-intimidating backlog of photos from snippets of Christmastime, New Years, friend visits, and the like, but work has gotten in the way (in a good way of course).

So here are pictures from our hiking trip to Khao Yai during Smile Camp (which was toward the end of December). I got to be the token farang (foriegner) in a group of about 10 boys, along with P. Duj, P. Aon, and a hiking guide/photographer. The hike was about 3-4km long, but we would stop every so often to admire nature or point out elephant poop on the trail, so it took us the better part of the morning.

I enjoyed myself immensely. One of the best parts about hiking in Khao Yai is that everyone has to wear leech socks there, as the leeches are bloodthirsty and ferocious. I don’t own leech socks and I didn’t bring long socks with me. Luckily, there were some to borrow before the hike started.

I’ll continue telling the story through pictures…

Welcome to Khao Yai, one of Thailand's UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to ferocious leeches!

A big thank you to P. Duj, who let me borrow his argyle socks before I wore the leech socks

The older students and the chaperones loaded up into two buses

See what I mean about dslrs being so prevalent in Thailand?

Magic kept on trying to start fires with the magnifying glass he brought along with him

This was the day I learned how to say "elephant poo"

Bam stands in an elephant track

leech socks and chacos, a winning combination

Lunch by and wading in a cold mountain stream. The perfect end to our hike.